A CERTAIN INEVITABILITY
On July 17 the New York Yankees' Reggie Jackson bunted against Manager Billy Martin's orders in a 9-7, 11-inning loss to the Kansas City Royals. That defiant act touched off a tumultuous week during which Jackson was suspended and Martin ousted—and during which the Yankees fell 14 games out of first place. Also on July 17, Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, fearful of a Montreal-style financial bath, announced that his city was withdrawing its bid to host the 1984 Olympics. July 17 was a black-letter day for sports fans in the nation's first and third cities.
Last week both the Yankees and Los Angeles completed stunning comebacks. While the Yankees were celebrating their World Series victory (over a team from Los Angeles), Bradley was formally agreeing to host the '84 Games (a prize that New York had vainly sought) at a contract-signing ceremony in the White House with Lord Killanin, the International Olympic Committee president. Hard-fought though they were, both turnarounds, once achieved, had a certain air of inevitability about them. For the Yankees, it was, ho-hum, their 22nd World Series triumph. And the City of Angels had finally consented to stage the Games only after receiving a pledge of unspecified financial assistance from President Carter, the sort of federal rescue mission that seems essential these days to such ambitious undertakings. Although Bradley promised a "spartan" Olympics, he also said he expected the amount of federal assistance to be "substantial."
SEE AND SKI
It is too early to call him the Sporting Pope, but John Paul II does have an athletic background. For one thing, he has been an avid skier. According to a story making the rounds last week (and there were enough of those, certainly), as a cardinal the future pope once accidentally crossed the Czechoslovak border while skiing in Poland's Tatra Mountains and was held by guards until church authorities confirmed his identity.
Another story has Cardinal Wojtyla slyly asking a group of listeners, "What is the difference between the Italian cardinals and the Polish cardinals?" Met with silence, he said, "Half of the Polish cardinals can ski." At the time, there were two Polish cardinals.
And it pleased sports fans that John Paul II's inauguration was held at 10 a.m. Sunday instead of the traditional late-afternoon hour, when it would have conflicted with Italian soccer and NFL games. Reports to the contrary, though, this was not the reason for the early start. The Vatican merely wanted to avoid afternoon lighting problems and to enable cardinals to head for home by nightfall.
Winless Northwestern University has already clinched its seventh straight losing season (page 92) but it has not been the country's worst college football team during that period. The distinction goes to the University of Texas at El Paso. So says Steve Harvey, the Los Angeles newspaperman whose weekly rankings of the gridiron hapless, the Bottom Ten, is syndicated in 137 papers. The feature's popularity helps console Harvey when Arizona Coach Tony Mason calls the reverse poll "sick" and O.J. Simpson calls Harvey "a jerk."
Harvey does not deny that Northwestern has been consistently inept in recent years. In fact, he ranked NU "No. 1" in the Bottom Ten for three straight weeks last season until the "Mildcats," as he calls them, blew their chances for the top spot by upsetting Illinois 21-7 in what he styled a "must lose game." Year in and year out, though, UTEP has it all under NU. In the last five seasons the Miners have finished No. 1 once and No. 2 twice in the Bottom Ten and they ranked fourth going into Saturday's 44-0 shellacking by Brigham Young, a loss that left them 1-6 this season and 8-55 going back to 1973 (vs. NU's 12-49-1). Another Bottom Ten perennial is Kansas State, whose excessive generosity with scholarships has prompted the NCAA to ban the school from bowl games for two years. Harvey finds this a curious punishment for a team that has won just four of its last 26 games.
"It would have been more interesting," he says, "if Kansas State had been forced to play a bowl game."
Ordinarily, the 9,157 fans in the Summit in Houston might have been tempted to head en masse for the exits. After all, with the fourth quarter just starting in their NBA home opener, the Rockets were leading the New York Nets by the decidedly un-spine-tingling score of 101-61. But then the public-address announcer reminded the crowd of a promotional offer. It seems that Ron Krispy Fried Chicken, a Houston-based restaurant chain with 80 outlets, had promised ticket-holders a free $1.55 fried-chicken dinner—including two pieces of bird, one side order, and rolls—every time the Rockets scored 135 points or more at home.
Their interest and appetites thus aroused, the fans not only stayed in their seats, but began to chant, "We want chicken, we want chicken." As the score climbed toward the mouth-watering 135-point mark, Houston players slapped hands on the bench and one of them chirp-chirped, "Let's break this guy." Doing his part, at one point Coach Tom Nissalke sent his regulars back into action, prompting the crowd to change its chant to, "Tom wants chicken, Tom wants chicken." Finally, with 51 seconds left and the score 133-83, Houston Guard Mike Dunleavy put in, a dinner-winning layup and the Rockets went on to a 139-87 victory.
Next day, as 3,587 ticket-holders descended on Ron's outlets for $5,559.85 worth of free food, Steve Woodall, who runs the business with his dad Ron, said he welcomed the publicity the giveaway was generating. "It would cost us $2,750 just to buy a 30-second TV slot on Battlestar Gallactica" he said. "We're getting something better—it's not advertising but true news." But Woodall also admitted being apprehensive. He had introduced the promotion secure in the knowledge that the Rockets had reached 135 points at home only once before in their eight-year history, yet here they had already done it in their 1978-79 opener. And he allowed that he could find the expense prohibitive if they start hitting 135 more often than, say, once a month.
His Rocket teammates were meanwhile calling Dunleavy by his new nickname: Chicken Man.
If any of Idaho State's cross-country opponents place too much stock in names, they could be psyched out even before the starter's gun sounds. Among the Bengal runners this season is a full-blooded Sioux from Mobridge, S. Dak. named Cornell Three Legs.
A NICE NIGHT'S WORK
Close analysis of available horseplaying systems reveals that betting the jockey rather than the nag is as good a way to go broke as any. But racegoers who put their faith and money on a 36-year-old jockey named Dave Gall last Wednesday night at Cahokia Downs in East St. Louis, Ill. turned out to be geniuses, each and every one. Gall rode all 10 races on the program and won eight of them, the first jockey ever to bring home that many winners on the same card in the U.S. But for a photo-finish loss in the fourth race to a 3-5 favorite, Gall would have had yet another winner.
Gall won in the stretch and wire-to-wire, aboard long shots as well as favorites. He won the first three races on horses paying $10.80, $4.40 and $16.60 before his mount in the fourth, a 3-to-1 shot named Jamie Lee, lost the photo to odds-on favorite Kentucky Candy. Following two more wins paying $19.40 and $16.20, Gall finished out of the money in the seventh. Then, after another two wins ($5 and $6), he completed his evening by bringing a gelding named Geordin from off the pace to win the five-furlong 10th race by two lengths. Geordin, who had finished in the money just once in 19 races, paid $12.
Gall has been the leading jockey at Cahokia Downs in five of the last six years and was fourth in the country in wins during '76 and '77. He had been sidelined much of this year by a broken collarbone and a suspension, which made his big night especially welcome. Gall said that the pressure on him actually decreased as the evening wore on. "The more you win like that, the more relaxed you get," he said. "If one of your horses loses, they surely can't blame you, can they?"
Rhode Island Coach Bob Griffin said that his team would practice the play and, yes, might use it in a game. Massachusetts' Bob Pickett denounced it as a piece of japery that violated "the ethics of coaching." Around the Yankee Conference—indeed, around college football—people were still debating the great "batball play" that enabled lowly Maine to escape with a 7-7 tie against favored New Hampshire (SI, October 23).
The play began when Maine Place-kicker Mike Hodgson got set for what appeared to be a field-goal attempt from New Hampshire's 28-yard line. Instead of placing the football, however, holder Tony Trafton tossed it into the air and Hodgson punched it as though he were serving a volleyball. The ball sailed past New Hampshire's unsuspecting players, landed on the five and skidded into the end zone, where Maine's Dave Higgins fell on it for a touchdown.
It turned out that Coach Jack Bicknell had introduced the sleight-of-fist play several weeks earlier and that his men had practiced it while humming the theme from the TV show Batman. "I knew it was possible I looked like the biggest jerk in America," Bicknell allowed after ordering the play against New Hampshire. "But my kids have taken some terrible beatings. I was trying to give them a lift."
New Hampshire Coach Bill Bowes angrily claimed that the batball play was either 1) illegal or 2) ought to be, but his protests were in vain. The NCAA rule book prohibits batting a fumble and also batting any ball out of bounds to gain yardage. But batting a non-fumbled ball inbounds is legal. Far from being new, such a play was fairly common in high schools—until it was outlawed in 1975. But the colleges have never prohibited it, and University of Delaware Athletic Director Dave Nelson, longtime editor-secretary of the NCAA football rules committee, included a sketch of just such a play in his 1976 book, Illustrated Football Rules. Bicknell had gotten the idea of attempting the play from reading Nelson's book.
"I think it's an interesting and innovative play," says Nelson. "One of the problems with football today is that it's so conservative. This play is a lot like an onside kick except that one is with the hand, the other the foot. It's not easy to execute, and because it's a free ball the defense has as much opportunity to recover as the offense. In this case, one coach simply knew the rules, the other didn't."
SOMETHING FOR THE PIGGY BANK
Tracy Austin, the 15-year-old tennis prodigy, turned professional last week, one of the youngest world-class athletes ever to do so. In the past, all money Tracy "won" in tournaments was turned over to the U.S. Lawn Tennis Association's youth development program. The teen-ager's decision to join the pro circuit means that future earnings will be hers to keep. The implications are clear to Bill Ryan, Tracy's counselor at Rolling Hills (Cal.) High, where the sophomore maintains a straight-A average. "Next year she should take a course in accounting," he says.
And you can forget the allowance, Mom.
THEY SAID IT
•Dr. Ferdie Pacheco, the well-known ring physician, on the sale of video cassettes showing both Ali-Spinks fights for $89.95: "Hell, for that money, Spinks will come to your house."
•Jackie Stewart, the peripatetic ex-auto driver: "In one year I traveled 450,000 miles by air. That's 18½ times around the world—or once around Howard Cosell's head."